Written by Mihir Shah
There was a time, believe it or not, when politics was a calling that attracted the brightest and most idealistic in society, charged with the dream of serving the greater good. Sadly, those days are long gone. Successive generations also began to have, naturally but unfortunately, a very dark view of religion. There are countless cases of religious gurus and priests exposed for morally bankrupt behavior. The misuse of religion for narrow political ends – across the political spectrum – has made the waters even more murky.
At a time when politics and religion have suffered a huge decline, Babasaheb Ambedkar offers us an example from which we can learn. For Ambedkar, the challenge of social revolution was inextricably linked with the art of inner transformation. Ambedkar’s spirituality did not allow for a crude separation of the personal and the political. Ambedkar’s insistence on a spiritualization of human life constitutes the truly notable radicalism of his political struggle. It is his most significant contribution but also his most forgotten legacy. Learning from Ambedkar can infuse our political and religious traditions with a dynamic and contemporary healthier relevance and respect.
Meaningful politics in an unjust society include efforts to shift the balance of power in favor of the poor and the oppressed. The radicality of such an attempt depends on the scope, universality and sustainability of the vision of transformation. Can we experience freedom on the deepest level? Or do we continue to get caught up in the endless cycle of desire, fulfillment and lack – which becomes an eternal source of bondage and unfreedom, even more overwhelming than any outward bondage?
It was this effort that drew Ambedkar to various religious traditions and ultimately to Buddhism. It was not for him an end-of-life achievement, as some believe. From 1936, in his classic work Caste annihilation, in a generally overlooked passage, Ambedkar said, âI believe that true religion is the foundation of society, the foundation upon which all true civil government rests, and both their sanction. He reiterated this point of view 20 years later: âFor the religious system, although today has no connection with the secular system, is nevertheless the foundation on which any secular rests because the secular system cannot last very long. a long time if it does not have the sanction of religion, however distant it may be. it’s possible.”
Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me hasten to clarify that Ambedkar does not advocate for a theocratic state. Its emphasis is on promoting values ââthat would engender a human society, based on loving kindness, impeccable Buddhist virtue. The question he asked himself was: what would favor such a society, imbued with these values? And his clear answer was that it requires a process of inner transformation, without which all activism and social engineering would, sooner or later, come to a standstill.
He was drawn to religious traditions because the change they seek is more fundamental than those limited to the transformation of specific power structures, whether based on gender, class, caste, race, region or community. This is what makes his spirituality so powerfully radical in political terms. Ambedkar was a relentless struggle to arrive at a praxis that would allow the liberation of the world from pain, not only for Dalits, but for all beings on Earth.
For Ambedkar, the main obstacle to human liberation is what he calls self-delusion: âThere are two forces that prevail in society: individualism and brotherhood. Each individual always asks himself “me and my neighbors, are we all brothers, are we even cousins ââof the fiftieth, am I their keeper, why should I do them good? Brotherhood is an opposing force of character. It is a feeling that leads an individual to identify with the good of others by which the good of others becomes for him something that must be naturally and necessarily taken care of, like any other physical condition. of our existence.
But for Ambedkar, how this brotherhood was to be built was of the utmost importance and he rejected Gandhi and Marx in this regard. He wrote: âYou have to choose between government by force and government by moral disposition. The Buddha’s way was not to force people to do what they didn’t like to do even if it was good for them. His way was to change the disposition of people to do what they would not want to do otherwise. Thus, without an interior transformation of the individual, social revolutions remain incomplete and unsustainable. Force and constraint, even moral ones (as in Gandhi), do not lead to change for long. Our morals must be based on an understanding of the nature of reality, the science of life, what we discover in religious traditions, when we study them with the seriousness required.
It may be best to see Ambedkar’s legacy among a pantheon of activists who have brought replenished spiritual resources to address the main challenges of their time and context. These include Gustavo Gutierrez and Paulo Freire and their theology of liberation in Latin America. And Martin Luther King, who argued that “power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” This understanding of power helps King positively articulate the indestructible connection between love, power, and justice. He said, “The best of power is love that implements the demands of justice, and justice at its best is the power that corrects everything that opposes love.” It is the quintessence of Ambedkar! Much like the work of anti-Vietnam War Buddhist monk ThÃch Nháº¥t Háº¡nh and African-American Christian Buddhist feminist, Bell Hooks. Above all, we can only endorse DR Nagaraj’s attempt to show deeper unity Going through spirituality in the politics of Ambedkar and Gandhi, far beyond their immediate differences.
I do not agree with Ambedkar’s rejection of all spiritual traditions other than Buddhism. My own inclination is like that of Raimon Panikkar, a great supporter of “intra-religious dialogue”, who once said: “I left Europe [for India] as a Christian, I discovered that I was a Hindu and I came back to a Buddhist, without ever having ceased to be a Christian. The degeneration of religions has a lot to do with the unnatural alliance that historically emerged between institutionalized religion and the structures of power in society. It’s really ironic because the founders of religious traditions were all social revolutionaries. And it gravely obscured the deeper and priceless truth embodied in these traditions.
Dominant values ââof our time include the ‘virtue of selfishness’ of Ayn Rand, the imposition of similitude in McDonald’s global capitalism and totalitarian states, the intensification of hatred for excluded minorities and the strident assertion of the certainty of knowledge and domination over nature, which extends to both left and right. The consequences of these are clearly before us – the continuing crises plaguing global capitalism, growing inequalities and violence within society, as well as a planet in grave danger of destruction, highlighted more recently by Covid-19 .
Work for the annihilation of caste, Ambedkar would have wanted us to affirm the unity of all existence, in recognition of our interdependence, far beyond the separate self. It is only on this basis that we can live a life animated by the Buddha’s exhortation often quoted by Ambedkar: “Just as the earth does not feel hurt and does not want it, so you Bhikkus must continue to endure Masteredtowards your offenders. . . Leave the reach of your Mastered to be as unlimited as the world â. And develop the necessary upekkha(detachment) without which it would become impossible to have either the stamina to sustain the struggle for change or the wisdom to carry it out creatively.
The writer has lived and worked with the Adivasis of central India for the past three decades, trying to create a new paradigm of development and democracy.